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Anabolism: How to Bounce Back Quicker

By Jason Gootman and Will Kirousis

Let’s get nerdy for a moment and look at three definitions.

Metabolism: The sum of the chemical and physical changes occurring in tissue, consisting of anabolism (those reactions that convert small molecules into large), and catabolism (those reactions that convert large molecules into small).

Catabolism: A series of degradative chemical reactions that break down complex molecules into smaller units, and in most cases releasing energy in the process.

Anabolism: A succession of chemical reactions that construct or synthesize molecules from smaller components, usually requiring energy in the process.

sleepingWhen you swim, ride, run and do other workouts, you are in a catabolic state. That is, you break your body down in order to complete the workout. Thankfully, when you sleep and rest, you are in an anabolic state and you build yourself back up. So every triathlete goes through a regular, daily dance between catabolism and anabolism. But not every triathlete is equally anabolic. Some triathletes build themselves back up better than others. These triathletes improve at a greater rate and avoid injuries and other recovery-related problems much better than triathletes who don’t do as good a job of going anabolic. Triathletes who are good at catabolism (working out), but not as good at anabolism tend to be injured often and get stuck in plateaus where they don’t improve.

There are literally dozens of decisions you make each day that swing the pendulum in either the catabolic or anabolic direction. Perfection is unattainable and is never the goal, but excellence is. The tables that follow detail anabolic and catabolic behaviors. Aim to put points in the anabolic column as often as you can. Do your best each day. You’ll feel better and get faster!

Sleep-Related Factors

Anabolic  Catabolic 
You get at least eight hours of sleep on most nights. You get less than eight hours of sleep on most nights.
You get to bed by 10 p.m. on most nights. You stay up late doing work or watching television.
You sleep until 6 a.m. or later on most mornings. You get up very early on most mornings.
Your bedroom is very dark and very quiet. There is lots of artificial light and sounds from electronic devices in your bedroom.

Rest-Related Factors

Anabolic  Catabolic 
You spend some time resting on most days. Your days are packed from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.
On your days off from work, you spend significant time resting. Your days off from work are completely filled with workouts, chores and other activities keeping you on the go.
When you have downtime, you are able to deeply rest. Rest for you means doing work emails while lying in bed.

Nutrition-Related Factors

Anabolic Catabolic 
You eat enough for your bodyweight and workout load. You restrict your intake of food in an unnatural manner.
You always eat a hearty breakfast.
You skip breakfast or you grab something small and eat it on the run (in your car while driving, at your desk while working, etc.)
You eat enough complete protein for your bodyweight and workout load. You often eat meals void of protein-rich foods.
You eat foods containing nourishing fats. These foods include grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild-caught fish, free-range eggs, meat from wild animals, avocados, nuts and seeds. You’re still on a low-fat diet.
You eat enough carbohydrate for your bodyweight and workout load. You have made carbohydrate the new fat and you mistakenly avoid carbohydrate-rich foods.
You drink at least half your bodyweight (in pounds) of water (in ounces) every day as a base and you drink more for workouts. You say you should drink more water, but you don’t.
You drink clean spring water or well-filtered tap water. You drink water containing chemicals harmful to your body.
You avoid animal foods raised with hormones and antibiotics. You eat the cheapest meat/eggs you can find.
You avoid plant foods grown with pesticides and other harmful chemicals. You eat the cheapest fruits and vegetables you can find.
You eat slowly and with family and friends most of the time. You often rush through meals and/or eat by yourself.
Water is your primary beverage. You regularly drink soda, coffee and/or alcoholic beverages.

Work and Relationship Factors

Anabolic  Catabolic 
You enjoy your work and find it fulfilling. It’s a paycheck.
You work an amount that feels comfortable to you. You are overwhelmed by the time, energy and emotional demands of your work.
You sit for hours at a time on a regular basis. You stand up and/or move around often while at work.
You get your household chores done comfortably each week. With all of the chores you choose to do, it feels like a battle most days and weeks to keep up.
You feel comfortable financially. You often worry about money.
You have a fulfilling sex life. Your sexual needs are not being met.

Other Factors

Anabolic Catabolic 
You treat yourself like you treat your best friends and children. You are your worst critic and you treat yourself as such.
Play, in various forms, is a regular part of your life and you have fun daily. You are very serious and take a very serious approach to life.
You spend plenty of time outdoors, but don’t get sunburned. You get sunburned often.
You do power workouts (aka strength workouts) and you cross-train regularly. You only swim, ride and run.

Learn more about Jason Gootman, Will Kirousis, and Tri-Hard at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.